Pandya the T20 Captain Needs Time, Concludes RevSportz Debate

Picture Courtesy: Debasis Sen


‘Decoding Hardik Pandya, the Captain’ was the theme for this special chat-cum-debate session organised by RevSportz. Subhayan Chakraborty anchored the show. Joydeep Mukherjee, former first-class cricketer who is a TV commentator these days, joined the journalist duo of G Rajaraman and Atreyo Mukhopadhyay to provide the answers. The following were the highlights of the show:

On Pandya the captain?

Joydeep: I still feel he is finding his feet as the India captain. Leading a franchise team and leading the country are two different things. In the franchise, a captain has immense power. There is only the coach to deal with. In the Indian team, you have the coach, selectors and everybody else. I don’t think Hardik was wrong in going for the fast bowlers for the last few overs (of the second T20I against West Indies that India lost). Yes, in hindsight you can say why not (Yuzvendra) Chahal, but he could have gone for a couple of sixes and the match would have been over.

I think the faster bowlers like Mukesh (Kumar) being unable to bowl a yorker and ending up bowling a length ball (which went for six) made the difference. But Hardik is still getting used to it. All the great captains India had like Sourav (Ganguly) and (MS) Dhoni took some time. Hardik also needs time to get his bearings right.

Rajaraman: I know our takes will be different, but that’s what we want, an exchange of thoughts. Talking specifically about the second T20, it was surprising to see Chahal not bowl that 18th over. He had taken two wickets in the 16th, there was a run-out and just two runs. Had Ashish Nehra been circling the fence (as coach, like he does for Gujarat Titans in the IPL), things could have been different. I would have bowled Chahal in that 18th over. What was the plan? To keep him for the 20th over? I don’t remember seeing a spinner bowl the last over in T20s.

We can say the captain was giving Arshdeep (Singh) and Mukesh the experience of bowling under pressure. But I don’t think we should be experimenting in an international game. Yes, the likes of Arshdeep, Mukesh and others will have to learn how to handle the death overs and bowl them. But then, you have to win matches. That’s the reason you play cricket. Hardik is a fantastic captain, but better than he was in the second T20.

Atreyo: It’s early to judge Pandya the captain. He has won nine of the 14 T20s he has led India in, including four against New Zealand in New Zealand. Yes, that Chahal decision was surprising and so was not using Axar Patel, but we can’t overlook that these are Pandya’s chances to try out options. And what were India’s strike bowlers doing? You expect them to polish off the tail. They just had to take two wickets.

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Also, as Joydeep mentioned, Pandya has largely been leading an experimental side. He never had at his disposal everything he would have liked. He has always led teams which were unsettled. Even the current one is no different. Let’s not judge him at the moment.

Parthiv Patel said on Cricbuzz that Rahul Dravid is not proactive as a coach and spoke about the coaching set-up. There is talk of whether Pandya would have led differently had Nehra been the coach. Do you agree with this narrative?

Rajaraman: The kind of symbiosis and chemistry a captain and coach share is sometimes reflected in the captaincy. Cricket has always been a captain’s game and will remain one. You can add a very strong set of coaches who want to make an imprint, but it’s still a captain’s game. How a captain manages his resources sometimes changes when the coaches change.

I’m looking at how Hardik has blossomed as a captain with Nehra as coach vis-a-vis a calm and composed Dravid, who perhaps allows Hardik to do the things he wants. You need to empower the captain with the right kind of coach. I’m not saying Dravid is a bad coach. But the time has come to think about different coaches for different formats, like different captains for different formats.

Atreyo: It’s difficult to say whether Pandya would have been more effective with Nehra as coach. What can be said is, they are completely different as coaches. Dravid is calm and composed, seated quietly in the dugout. You don’t see him getting animated or shouting instructions.

Nehra, on the other hand, is his antithesis. He is like a football coach, always by the touchline and screaming instructions at his players at different stages of the game. I have seen Pandya field in the deep, just to be near the boundary rope and have a chat with Nehra. Dravid and Nehra are opposite as characters.

Is it good to experiment at the cost of losing an international game?

Atreyo: Tough one, because one plays to win. That’s the first condition. Having said that, there come times when you have to try out players. When you don’t have time to check resources in the domestic circuit, in a tournament like the Challenger Series, or India ‘A’ tours, where else do you experiment?

And this is going to increase. With a packed international calendar in all three formats and T20 and other leagues in so many countries, there will be less time and space to try out new players or help them get accustomed to new roles before they come to international cricket. The West Indies series is a platform to do this. Losing it is unlikely to affect India’s qualifying chances for next year’s World Cup.

Joydeep: I half agree with that because there is no other place where you can replicate this feel, the importance, the pulse of an international game. Even in India ‘A’, you cannot, nor in Deodhar Trophy or a List A game. But I also thought that they did not lose because of experimenting. I feel they thought that using the fast bowlers was the best thing to do under the circumstances. Even in the 2007 T20 World Cup final, Joginder Sharma bowled the last over. Sometimes, you go by your hunch. If it clicks, you are Mahendra Singh Dhoni!

Question from Rajaraman: Who would have you have given the 18th over to?

Joydeep, Subhayan and Atreyo: Chahal.

The final one from Subhayan: Looking ahead to next year’s T20 World Cup, would you give Hardik the captain the red light, yellow light or green light?

Atreyo: Green light.

Rajaraman: I think all of us will be saying green.

Joydeep: Just when you are stuck between a yellow light and green light, with the countdown coming down from eight to seven to six… That’s where Hardik is for me!

Also Read: Burning bright under pressure – The Alick Athanaze way

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